Satellite images have shown widespread torching of villages in the central part of Myanmar where junta forces are using arson to crush resistance in the Sagaing region.
The photos, largely confirming the local media reports, are among the strongest evidence to confirm that the military is using widespread arson to step up its assault on armed resistance in the region.
"It's a campaign of terror, if you live in an area or village that they (the junta) think is particularly supportive of those that have taken up arms then you are, in their view, the enemy," Tom Andrews, the United Nations special envoy for human rights in Myanmar, told Reuters.
According to Andrews, who had spoken by phone with several witnesses, the military had increased attacks in Sagaing over the past few months, with soldiers leading ground assaults and jets carrying out air strikes.
The military and pro-military militias have been setting fire to villages in central Myanmar almost every day since December, according to reports from local media. Publicly available NASA satellite photos confirm the location of almost all the largest blazes.
More than 52,000 people in Myanmar fled their homes in the last week of February alone, according to the United Nations because military attacks and arson have increased in the region in very large-scale.
The recent burnings are the first time such a tactic has been seen in the mostly Buddhist central heartland. Over the past year, the region has been the site of intense fighting between junta troops and groups belonging to the People's Defense Force (PDF), the armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG), which was ousted in last year's coup.
"We lost everything we have," 41-year-old Maung Zaw, a peanut farmer, told Reuters by phone. "I will fight against this military dictatorship to the end."
Some regional people told Reuters they witnessed the burning of three villages in the Sagaing region in February. NASA images and eight Planet Labs photos confirm the dates the witnesses described the attacks.
On Monday, a coalition of anti-junta forces killed 40 Myanmar military soldiers during a day of intense fighting in the Karen State town of Lay Kay Kaw, according to the National Unity Government (NUG).
Regional witnesses said that junta forces bombed the area at least 20 times with two fighter jets and destroying civilian homes in the town’s Ward 6.
“They’ve been opening fire from the aircrafts continuously. They also dropped bombs. We can now see clearly that the military is targeting civilian houses,” said a spokesperson for the Cobra Column.
Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, in remarks published in state media, said the military would hold new elections in August 2023.
The military takeover has triggered widespread international condemnation since last year. Myanmar was ruled by the military from 1962 until 2011.